PROVO — One of the better women's basketball teams few have seen this season, 23rd-ranked BYU played much of its 64-39 victory Saturday over San Diego State like a squad not caring to be seen.

The Cougars used stifling defense and a pair of late-half surges to improve to 15-1 overall and 5-0 in the Mountain West Conference. The Aztecs dropped to 3-13 and 0-6.

BYU's Nancy Seljaas scored a game-high and season-high 15 points, and Mallary Gillespie and Ambrosia Anderson added 13 and 12, respectively. A point shy of double digits in scoring, Dani Kubik contributed three blocks and a career-best 14 boards.

The Marriott Center matinee drew a season-high 1,169 fans, nearly double the Cougars' average to date. Despite its national ranking, glossy record and perch atop the MWC standings, BYU still struggles with its drawing power — an annual challenge even several years ago when the Cougars reached the Sweet Sixteen.

Six of the nine Mountain West teams average better than the Cougars, who also draw a fraction of that of its ranked peers (see accompanying chart). The closest to the Cougars' paltry attendance is George Washington, with about a third of BYU's enrollment.

The Cougars draw about a third of similarly successful women's sports at BYU, such as the nationally ranked and conference-contending soccer and volleyball teams, which averaged 2,069 and 1,864 last fall.

"We go to the soccer and volleyball matches as a team," said Seljaas, mindful of their crowds, "and we wonder why we can't get these people to our games."

BYU students with an All-Sports pass — key to attending the high-profile football and men's basketball games — can get in free. But the largest women's basketball crowds normally are when BYU-Utah men's tickets are distributed after the game.

Even Saturday's rare four-digit total was engulfed in the 22,400-seat Marriott Center, with a huge curtain again deployed to hide nearly half the empty seats.

Besides sluggish play at times, Saturday's crowd was treated to a second straight outing in which the defense held its opponent to sub-23-percent shooting.

"The one thing I know about this team is that they really try hard to defend," said BYU coach Jeff Judkins, adding, "I think we played well for about 20 minutes tonight."

BYU needed four minutes to score its first point on a Kubik free throw, another two minutes to get its first field goal on a Kubik basket, and another two minutes for its first 3-pointer on a Seljaas trey. At that point, BYU's shooting was a measly 16 percent.

More first-half firsts: BYU hit double-digit points on Gillespie's 3-pointer 12 minutes into the game, and the Cougars logged their first lead a half-minute later on scoring MWC leader Anderson's first field goal.

The Cougars used a 22-6 run in the final eight minutes of the first half for a 33-18 advantage at intermission, thanks in large part to Seljaas's 14 first-half points.

"My role coming off the bench is to give a spark and give some energy," said Seljaas.

BYU allowed SDSU to linger not too far behind in the second half before another 17-6 spurt in the final nine minutes for the final 25-point margin of victory.

GAME NOTES: Melinda Johnsen topped BYU with six steals and five assists . . . Michelle Strawberry and Erin Jackson led SDSU with 10 points apiece . . . BYU backup guard Vanessa Hutson missed her second straight game with an inner-ear infection . . . Next up for the Cougars is a Wednesday night game at TCU; the Horned Frogs upset nationally ranked New Mexico earlier in MWC play.


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com